Hiking with Kids

Hit the trails safely this spring

Photograph by wojciech gajda/istockphoto

Seeing the world through your child’s eyes is just one of the joys of being a parent. What better way to introduce them to the wonders of the world than to take them on a hike? You’ll enjoy quality time together as a family while getting fresh air and exercise. Whether your brood is big or small, hiking with kids can be safe and easy. These tips will help keep your family happy and healthy while on the trail: 

Cut the distance Excursions with kids must be kept short. If your kids are under 6 years old, start out with no more than a one-mile trip, then slowly build up to a distance that fits your family’s fitness levels. Of course, older kids will be able to do more.

Be flexible Kids are curious. They’re going to want to stop often to examine the rocks alongside the trail or play in the stream, so plan on plenty of extra time to complete your hike. Remember that when hiking with kids, getting to a certain destination doesn’t matter. Just being out there matters.

Make it fun Kids don’t have the attention spans that adults have, so be creative about keeping them interested. Identify flowers, trees, and plants. Sing songs. Play games such as “I Spy” or “20 Questions.” Encourage your children to explore, touch, and ask questions, but not to destroy or collect.

Eat and drink One quart of water every two hours is a good rule of thumb. Skip the sugary drinks or fruit juice; when your kids are exercising, they need water. And don’t forget to pack along a few trail bars, oranges, or other healthy snacks. After only an hour on the trail, your kids may get hungry.

Be sun-smart Sunscreen is a must, even when you are hiking on a cloudy day. Choose a protection level of SPF 30-plus. Fragrance-free versions are less likely to attract bugs. Reapply sunscreen every hour or so, because little ones can’t always tell you when they’re getting sunburned.

Leave of three, let them be Poison oak grows prolifically throughout the Bay Area, and contact with its leaves or stems can result in a nasty, itchy rash. If you don’t know how to identify it, just remember the old Boy Scout rhyme about “leaves of three.”

Beat bug bites Your kids will love getting up close and personal with most creepy crawlers they find on the trail. But two insects that nobody likes to meet are mosquitoes and ticks. To avoid them, use a DEET-free insect repellent. Many natural repellents are available, usually made with plant oils such as citronella or eucalyptus. Spring is an especially active time for ticks, so when you’ve completed your hike, check everyone’s skin and clothes for crawling ticks.

Where to go In the South Bay, check out the Santa Clara County Parks’ website, parkhere.org, for directions to parks and trails near you. If your kids are between 9 and 11 years old, enroll them in the county’s Junior Ranger program (click on the “For Kids” link), and soon they’ll be leading you on hikes.

Jessica Iclisoy is the founder of California Baby, a natural skincare line for babies, kids, and sensitive adults. Visit her website at californiababy.com.